Researchers are trying to find out why women live longer than men.

A new paper by Flinders University’s Professor Fran Baum shows that since 2006, in all countries in the world, women have lived longer than men, but paradoxically report more illness than men.

Professor Baum says this situation has been amplified during COVID-19, with such high numbers of women around the world engaged in vulnerable frontline health provision and essential work services.

No existing explanations account fully for these differences in life expectancy, although they do highlight the complexity and interaction of biological, social and health service factors.

“We know that poverty is bad for health, although more women live in poverty than men yet are less likely to die younger than men,” says Professor Baum.

Her new paper explores a global picture of gendered life expectancy difference (GLED) using a novel combination of epidemiological and sociological methods.

It shows that there are equally important differences between average life expectancies in different countries and between different groups within countries. For example, the paper included comparative case analysis offering explanations for GLED in Australia and Ethiopia.

“The Australian and Ethiopian cases demonstrated the complex economic, cultural, symbolic and social factors underpinning this difference, highlighting how similarities and differences are gendered within and between the countries,” says Professor Baum.

Life expectancy gain is slowing in Australia, but little is being done by policy-makers to understand specific gender and inequity reasons why this slip is occurring.

Professor Baum’s paper does not end with a clear finding about gendered life expectancy difference. However, she says it is an important reminder of why policy-makers need to receive more carefully nuanced research that drills into specific gender data that can best inform public health policy initiatives.

“We need gendered analysis to shape public policy discussion on health inequities – something which is sadly lacking at present in this country,” says Professor Baum.

“Shining a gender lens is vital and contributes to more complex understanding of health inequities and how to reduce them.”

The full paper is accessible here.